Author: Aren Bergstrom

TIFF 2017 Review: Grandmother

A young boy (Elias Louie) on a reserve searches through old videotapes and photographs in an attempt to connect to his deceased grandmother. Grandmother or ?Etsu is a film with intriguing ideas that fuel its formal experimentation, but like so many low-budget experiments, it’s mostly a concept in search of a film. There is little conflict to latch onto in this found-footage drama and we’re only allowed snippets of the world beyond the boy’s bedroom and backyard. An early moment when the boy talks to a neighbour building an outdoor cooking area shows hints of the sort of immersive cinema this approach could muster, but other snippets of the boy’s mother’s abusive boyfriend reduce the tension on screen into trite drama. Kudos to filmmaker Trevor Mack for trying to do something with few resources; this sort of found-footage approach masks budget constraints and nonprofessional acting. However, with no compelling thesis to wrap this formal approach around, we’re left with nothing more than tepid cinema and the occasional analog experimentation, using VHS recording errors to bridge timelines and (perhaps) dimensions. Is Grandmother essential viewing? No. It’s the sort of intriguing short experiment that could’ve used another tinkering at the conceptual...

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Review: The Big Sick

Based on the lives of co-writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick details the early days of the relationship between Kumail (Nanjiani), who immigrated to the United States alongside his Muslim Pakistani family, and Emily (Zoe Kazan), who is commitment-adverse after suffering a series of broken relationships. While their diverse backgrounds prove difficulty enough for their relationship, Emily also goes into a coma, forcing Kumail to bond with her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) as he tries to salvage a relationship when it’s unknown if his partner will live. Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick is...

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Review: Graduation

Graduation follows Romeo (Adrian Titieni), a doting father who works hard to ensure that his daughter Eliza (Maria Dragus) has the opportunities to leave Romania and pursue an education in London. However, after his daughter is assaulted, her future is jeopardized and Romeo sets out to ensure she qualifies for her scholarship by any means possible. He compromises his principles at every turn in a quest to do the right thing for his daughter and justify her years of hard work, essentially giving into the corrupt society that he so desperately wants her to escape. Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation is a depiction...

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Books on Film: Ben Wheatley: Confusion and Carnage

It might seem a strange task to write a book about a director who’s only 44-years-old and has made six features in his career, but Adam Nayman puts forward a compelling argument for the worth of Wheatley’s nascent career in “Ben Wheatley: Confusion and Carnage.” If we’re to accept memoirs from 28-year-old movie stars and dissections of the lives of famous soccer players before they are barely old enough to drink, surely we can accept an intelligent and entertaining examination of a prolific director from a writer who knows what he’s talking about. Adam Nayman’s “Ben Wheatley: Confusion and...

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Hot Docs 2017 Review: Let There Be Light

Let There Be Light documents the efforts of various scientists and engineers working to create a nuclear fusion reactor, particularly the organization ITER, an international venture building a giant machine called a tokamak in Southern France in what would be the world’s largest science experiment once completed. Let There Be Light might not be an advocacy documentary like An Inconvenient Truth and the host of eco-docs that sprang up in the late aughts, but it still plays into the tradition started by that film. In its opening moments, Michel Laberge, founder of General Fusion, warns that human beings are...

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Review: A Quiet Passion

A Quiet Passion tells the life story of Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon), the American poet who went all but ignored in her own lifetime, but who is now considered by many to be the greatest poet America ever produced. The film begins in her time in seminary and ends with her premature death, focusing on her life as a recluse and her often-contentious relationship with her family. The plot description of Terence Davies’s A Quiet Passion makes it sound like a conventional biopic, but I hesitate to even use the word “biopic” to describe it. Certainly, it tells the...

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Ten great frames of Toronto on film

Toronto might be one of the great North American cities, but it’s hardly celebrated the way New York, Los Angeles, or even Chicago is on film. It rarely plays itself, usually posing as New York City (Kick-Ass), Detroit (RoboCop), or some fictional metropolis like Midway City (Suicide Squad). As such, the Toronto that is presented on screen is unmemorable, a bland modern city of generic skyscrapers and universal hallmarks of any big city. Luckily, this isn’t always the case. In the hundreds of films filmed in Toronto, there are a few films that highlight Toronto’s appeal and character. At...

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